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Archetypes, Individuality, and Design Implications

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Calvar The Blade's picture
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I think the idea of clearly understandable archetypes for Guard NPCs in AC games is a smart one. When a player can look at an NPC and instantly tell exactly what abilities they have based off of previous encounters with people who wore similar outfits, were of a similar build, and carried similar weapons, level design can be clearly based around unique behaviors individuals have.

But why do individual archetypes in AC lack visual variation beyond faces? The design of every Assassin's Creed protagonist is proof enough that AC's artists can create vastly different takes on a recognizable style. They are just as capable of creating more individuality within archetypes, so why don't they? Budget is an obvious answer, because recreating varied period clothing has less future re-use value than, for example, recreating european architecture. However just because money is a factor doesn't mean it tells the whole story.

I suspect that they want us to think of NPCs as gameplay elements, not people. The fact that they are rendered in a hyper-realistic style works against that: the identical clothes and hairstyles come off as an attempt to abstract humanity, to dissuade thought about the fact that AC's game systems think of killing a human much like playing with a toy.

Look at the visual disparity between guards and civillians: crowd npcs have become intensely varied as the games have gone on. They have so many faces, so many outfits, so many different colors for those outfits, so many expressive animations and behaviors. They began to be truly differentiated from each other the moment the developers started slowly taking away the player's ability to kill crowd members. In essence making the crowd into a toy that can only be played with in a passive, roundabout way: through hiding within it. This speaks to a deep uneasiness with what "play" usually means in AC.

The beginning of AC Unity felt so interesting and different: guards who spotted you kicked you out of parties instead of trying to kill you, the only two non-guards you fought had unique character models, faces, names, and unique abilities that were telegraphed according to the weapon they were holding rather than their also-unique clothing. You couldn't kill them in combat, you only incapacitated them.

You could clearly feel the hand of people who were considering the moral implications and world consistency of everything the player did. But as you learn when you're let loose in Paris with the intro portion completed, almost all of that was the result of heavy scripting. The actual mechanics aren't designed with a specific view on morality in mind. They are straightforward and dispassionate, in a way that almost fools you into thinking they are objective. They are designed to allow the player to kill any person who would in any circumstance try to kill them, and not allow the player to kill any person who would not in any circumstance try to kill them. (Unless you use a ranged weapon, in which case killing three civilians within a short amount of time will flash up a "the character didn't do this" message and respawn you at the last checkpoint. (Why even let the player's ranged attacks work when targeting a civilian in the first place?))

In practice this means that you can kill tons of people on a whim and without provocation, as long as they're wearing either red or blue clothes (the colors of the templars and city guard, respectively). Even if you manage to subdue someone non-lethally, you always have the option to kill them anyways. You don't have a responsibility to treat them with respect, no motivation to avoid any fight you know you can win. They are your toys, and you can play with them however you like.

When mechanics are made without much consideration for morality, the result still speaks a kind of morality regardless. In Assassin's Creed 3, Connor's unfettered ability to go on pointless killing sprees taints the message of the cutscene in which he protests against Haytham killing two helpless soldiers after interrogating them. It is not enough for the game's cutscene writer to have a well-considered moral stance: if the player character's morality is not deeply ingrained in the design of the game, it loses control over how that character's morality is perceived. In a sandbox or simulator, the player is creating their own story, and should be free to develop their own character's morals and method of operation. In a game, every action the player can perform to progress is specifically endorsed by the rules of the game, because games are by definition about winning. The implications of all approved rules reverberate across everything else.

Morally considered design would not just make the crowd unkillable, it would instead look at the titular Creed and say "Assassins will not kill an innocent, so we're going to define 'innocent' in the game systems and only allow players to kill NPCs who they observe as conforming to that definition, either by witnessing their actions and/or intent, or by learning of the same through sufficient alternative means.". The difference there is that it means despite guards and normal citizens and targets being different types of NPCs with different kinds of abilities and roles, they are universally treated as having the same inherent worth of consideration. The answer to "Why can't you just kill the target now instead of tailing them?" becomes "because it would be morally irresponsible to kill someone whose guilt is not proven.", and that assertion is backed up by the game not even allowing you to attempt to subvert it.

This would not be a simple thing to do! You'd have to confront the question of if trying to kill the player character is enough to classify someone as "not innocent", or if that should mean the player can only defend themselves and run. And then after you've decided on that, what if someone is fighting you with the intention of arresting you, or capturing you, or subduing you long enough to escape? What if you're being attacked by too many enemies to escape from or passively defend against? And even in situations where you are fully justified according to your character's morals, should mercy not be possible? Encouraged somehow? Maybe even required? And that's without even talking about how difficult it could be to actually implement after the design is worked out.

The thing is: Assassin's Creed and many games in general are all built around interpreting extremely complicated things that exist in reality! Stealth detection is based on how eyesight works, free-running and jumping is based on physics and musculature, and killing a person is based on the concept of death. Consistent morality is just another real-world thing to be incorporated. The difference is that of all the things in realistic games, it is the one that is least often seriously or consistently addressed.

It could hold just as valuable inspiration and implications for design as those other things do, and it has just as much ability to help players believe in a game world just a little bit more. You jump between virtual rooftops, slide under carts and over carriages, and you feel like you're in a real city. Imagine being required to think about an NPC on a deeper level than what clothes they are wearing, what weapon they are carrying: knowing that you have a responsibility to them as virtual human beings that limits the ways in which you can interact with them.

People can fit into readable visual archetypes without appearing wholly homogeneous, and can belong to specific groups of people without those groups being reduced to labels marked "can kill" and "can't kill". A lack of moral consideration in game design is a major contributor to the suppression of games' potential to individualize and humanize. "If we made these characters all look like their own person, what would it reveal about how we let them be treated?"

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Found this quote from Tim Rogers (indie dev, game critic, author) which I think expresses some of the things I was talking about here more eloquently:

If I were placed in a seat and told to direct and design a triple-A game from scratch, "no moral choices" would probably be my first big choice. When you work morals and choices and the ability to do right or wrong into your game, you spread the design too thin. I'd rather make a game about characters with . . . character. We're not telling them what to do so much as we're controlling them while they do it. So, for the record, I like a strong narrative element in my games, whether it's spoken in cut-scenes or implied entirely by the background graphics or whatever. Playing the game is ideally an exercise in expressing yourself by moving a character inside a thing with a story.

- http://kotaku.com/5720026/tim-rogers-wrestles-with-your-questions-of-mar...

When I spoke about "moral design", I suppose I really was just referring to character-focused design. It is less important that a character should be entirely moral by any one person's definition than that the things they can and have to do are consistent within their own specific interpretation of morality. The entire concept of the "Assassin's Creed" is to have a loose moral framework that roughly normalizes the expected behavior of disparate humans across history, but allows for some variance and personal expression.

Part, I think, of what can make a series like this go stale is the assumption that changing tools, abilities, and settings is enough to support people creating an attatchment to a new individual. Ezio was fairly different from Altair in the way he operated, and most of the games have been following his rough guidelines ever since. As has been talked about endlessly: Edward managed to capitalize on that through exposing the incongruity of it, being the character that those systems ideally represent. It exposes how thoughtless the other games were regarding what their mechanics said about their characters.

Despite my general loathing for the "be batman" mini-events that pop up constantly in Unity, it's indicative of some amount of effort that went into making Unity's side content fit being a justice-seeking Assassin. But it feels just like that: something meant for An Assassin, a vague and unspecific generic individual. Arno is his own person: not particularly concerned with justice, uninterested in the larger picture the Brotherhood fits in to. Yet most of his side content involves him actively participating in the Brotherhood's affairs and going out of his way to help with things to a degree that nothing in the story suggests he ever would, at least until the end. You don't feel like a pirate, but you actually feel more like an Assassin than you really should.

Who Arno is as an individual is not sufficiently considered in the design of the game. The ways in which he intends to operate are neither implied in story segments, nor used to create unique gameplay challenges. It's too free, too open-ended. Freedom from meaning, freedom from consequence. That's fine for a game that doesn't need to build a huge following or release every year, but it lacks the kind of hooks necessary to support AC. There's a reason Minecraft has not had a sequel: you can't force your own narrative onto something so freeform without inciting rebellion. AC players don't want minecraft. They want structured freedom, and are often bad at recognizing that.

Despite how folks often like to reduce them to their most surface-level qualities, all our Assassin protagonists have been very unique individuals. That should matter more. It should be as exciting a feature as a new mechanic: the new ways in which we are limited or freed, new implications for otherwise essential actions. We should never feel like we are "The Assassin", now in a new time and place. The character is an essential part of the setting. They offer as many new level design opportunities as the physical environments they occupy. They are more important to making a new game feel fresh than a 10x increase in visual fidelity is.

----
I have some hope for Jacob and Evie, for several reasons:

1: they've been specifically mentioned as having different skill trees to go with their different personalities and preferred approaches. That is a first step in the direction of individuality having an impact, however small. I hope that they do actually promote separate playstyles from each other, rather than having essentially differently behaving smoke-bombs.

2: their story and the side content around it is supposed to be all based on their personal quest to take over london's gangs. There has been no hint of genericized "what assassins do" stuff: though they seem clearly part of the order, they don't seem beholden to it in a way that limits their expression. AC1's order is often thought of as the ideal model, but the reason they had to burn it down at the end is because such a restrictive and all-encompassing guiding force is poison to storytelling. That's why we need to either be rebels or part of an sect that allows some level of initiative and creativity from its proven members. Jacob and Evie having their own pet project is a great thing to base a story and game world around: it is driven solely by the protagonists yet is not disconnected from Assassin aims like the romance of Arno and Elise.

At their best, AC stories are about extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, and the premise and central conflict should work to enhance this, not dampen its effect. Revelations and AC3 are still the series' strongest because they give the Assassin clear goals and obstacles to conquer. Ezio must collect the discs, Connor must kill the leading Templars. In both cases they have large amounts of personal agency in their path, and mission design is often tailored very specifically to their personal style. Ezio is James Bond: he dresses up as a minstrel, gets into olde-timey car chases, and has a fist-fight while falling off a cliff. Connor is direct and unrelenting in his approach, going behind enemy lines, smashing through multiple doors and windows at pivotal moments. He gets himself captured as a ploy to get closer to his target. (Twice.)

Give these characters space to flex what makes them special. Their Order doesn't have to be dead, but they should at least come to respect their methods and give them leeway.

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When there's too much freedom to make your own identity, the player Character has utterly no identity.

Oh of course Arno is Arno, but that never really feels like anything. The Arno I see in cutscenes feels like a separate entity entirely from the Arno I play in game. The Arno I control in moment-to-moment gameplay doesn't at all feel like he has the same type of personality as the one in cutscenes. That shouldn't seem too strange to you, it's part of what you've been standing against, after all. Aiden Pearce sort of had similar problems in Watch_Dogs, though debatably even worse.

When I played Altair in AC1, his personality was the same both in cutscenes and in gameplay. Part of that was due to cutscenes not being separate from gameplay. Control was never wrested from the player's hands and you had some part to play, even if it was just pacing around or changing the camera angle. All of the animations Altair has available to him in his cutscenes are the same animations you can trigger any time during gameplay. This makes him feel more realized, makes him feel more consistent and evokes a more Whole character. In gameplay, this is even down to the way he walks. His walk is quite literally the walk of a badass. But he kind of needs to be intimidating because Assassin's Creed 1 shoves down your throat how completely UNFRIENDLY and HOSTILE everywhere you go is to you.

Acre, Jerusalem and Damascus hate you because you're an Assassin, and they have a right to feel that way.
Masyaf hates you because you're a pretty bad Assassin (at first), and they have a right to feel that way.
Malik hates the living ____ out of you because you basically murdered his brother, and he has a HELL of a right to feel that way.

If that lack of affection came only from cutscene moments, it wouldn't stick. Gameplay supports this too partially in Altair's walk animation, but also the World itself.

In AC Unity, Fanatics/Extremists, whatever you like to call 'em, the Red Guys (god, the fact that I can easily reduce them to that and everyone can still know what I mean is exactly what this thread's about) certainly threaten you and yell at you. But that doesn't offer much in the way of knowing Arno's character through gameplay because it's outright stated they'll react to ANYONE that way. They're belligerent assholes constantly looking for a fight! It doesn't matter if you're a regular citizen or Arno himself, their reaction is always the same. They threaten and stab people in broad daylight almost as much as you do, only with much less style and finesse. They'll stab a guy just because he accidentally tripped in front of them and their delicate sensibilities happened not to like that much. "Oi! ARE YOU A ROYALIST!?" [SHANK]

This says more about their character than Arno's.

In Assassin's Creed 1, Guards will tell Altair to leave, they'll tell him to get out of their sight and similar things. But you never see them doing this to anyone else, so it's clear that Altair's very AURA and PRESENCE evokes Threat. You feel like a Threatening Agent in this world when you control him. Arno is more deadly than Altair in gameplay, yet it never ends up feeling that way in terms of character. Unity is much less committed to any of its many fantasies than Assassin's Creed 1 was to its single one.

I want to note something extremely important. This also works in AC1 and doesn't work in later AC games because any AC game after AC1 had an atrocious Detection system. It was honestly awful and I'd still say that with a gun to my head. Assassin's Creed 1 makes sense. People can stare at you, but as long as you don't do anything wrong, you're fine. This is what allows you to have those amazing moments of character and world expression. It still has the system of "staying too long in an area will get you attacked" depending on where you are. If you're on a rooftop with an archer, he'll tell you to get down and if you don't do it for a decent amount of time, you're going to get shot. AC shouldn't need to just pick one or the other. Have a more tension-raising system like AC1 had, and you can keep the whole "time-out failure state" business of the later detection systems.

In Assassin's Creed Unity, that feeling of tension is completely gone. You can't stay in an area while people are looking at you because a little meter starts filling up over their head and suddenly the only "gameplay" available is;
1) MURDER THE @#%^ OUT OF 'EM
2) Forget about EVERYTHING you did and IMPULSIVELY LEAP INTO THE NEAREST DUMPSTER FOR SAFETY

In AC2 and later, the tension of being an Assassin near guards isn't as flavorful because it's 1 or 0. Black or White. Yes or No. You're either NOT BEING LOOKED AT EVEN A LITTLE BIT, or you're being looked at SO HARD that a little meter starts rising and dammit buddy you'd better find somewhere to hide~! (Or kill everybody because what's the penalty for that?) There's no in-between. That nice little excitement you'd get in your chest from hiding behind a tree while a parent or friend looks for you is what AC1 delivered. No later AC game has done that because of a Detection System that works but is not compatible with the experience AC attempts to deliver.

This is overly reductionist but I really wanted to bang in that point as harshly as I could. Because it's irritating. Anyway.

Altair is supposed to be a Master Assassin in Skill, if not personality. As soon as you get the counter attack, the game allows you to test your luck and skill with the most powerful combat ability you have. That's the Hidden Blade counter. This thing even destroys the final boss in ONE SHOT, effectively skipping the entire fight! This doesn't have anything to do with the player, or unlocking further weapons or stats or armor, or anything.

Altair already has the skill to do this technique. He's probably had it for months. It is the culmination of "Master Assassin"-ness in a combat situation. The audacity to not Guard, to not Flee, but to dodge a massive sword so efficiently, with so little wasted movement, that he can immediately punish his enemy with the most cold, ruthless and impersonal punishment of all; removing their Life. Everything has consequences. Attacking a Master Assassin has the consequence of Death. It's that simple.

THIS DOES NOT mean that it's EASY to do this for the player! Hence why the game can maintain its fantasy of Altair being an absolute enigma of lethality, without becoming "casual" or a pushover in terms of difficulty. I feel as if there are more things you could draw out of these points, but how committed AC1 was to telling Altair's story through his gameplay genuinely still impresses me as I replay it nowadays. So many people claimed Altair didn't really have much of a character or personality because the way gamers were used to Consuming stories (and probably still are) is through cutscenes. When the cutscenes only show half of Altair's personality and his gameplay shows the other half, it's reasonable they'd feel tripped up.

I hope that Evie and Jacob's separate skill trees are first and foremost functional and rewarding. There should be no "useless" skills, or worse still, boring ones.

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I'm not so sure I follow: would a guard really be ok with a weird guy standing in a restricted area and not moving when he's told to leave? I understand your point when you're talking about restricted areas with crowds in them, that's never made much sense, but I feel like AC1's guards are just as much nonsensically more suspicious of you than they are of normal folks. Altair doesn't look THAT threatening. AC2's detection system isn't really enormously different from AC1's: it's 90% in how they changed the way the same information is presented.

From what I've heard about Syndicate, blending (out of conflict) no longer requires you to actually be in a civillian group, as long as you're not in stealth mode (conspicuous hood and all that). It seems like restricted areas will now truly only refer to places civillians aren't allowed to be. We'll see how that works out.

I agree that AC1 was fully dedicated to expressing Altair's personality! I think, however, that it was a personality that wasn't very relatable for most people, and, as I mentioned in my edit, that it was further restricted by his obedience to and lack of agency within AC1's order. He was a passive (though active) participant in the plot until the very end, and that's not the recipe for a good AC story.

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DarkAlphabetZoup wrote:
I hope that Evie and Jacob's separate skill trees are first and foremost functional and rewarding. There should be no "useless" skills, or worse still, boring ones.

Oh man. I was so pumped when I finally taught Arno how to fucking sit on a bench. Woo! Movin' on up!

“To have peace there must be strife; both are part of the structure of the world and requirements.” - Ancient Egyptian Proverb

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A fanfiction:

Assassin: Hey Arno
Arno: What?
Assassin: You really need to learn how to... relax.
Arno: *sits on a bench* Oh my god, I guess that's why my legs have been in constant pain for my whole life

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Jermaine Tito wrote:
A fanfiction:

Assassin: Hey Arno
Arno: What?
Assassin: You really need to learn how to... relax.
Arno: *sits on a bench* Oh my god, I guess that's why my legs have been in constant pain for my whole life

LMAO. I died.

Jermaine Tito wrote:
AC2's detection system isn't really enormously different from AC1's: it's 90% in how they changed the way the same information is presented.

I have to disagree. It's not just about the way the information is presented, it has dramatic repercussions for gameplay.

AC1:
- Being under Scrutiny is not a Failure State. The player can stay under scrutiny for as long as they want. This allows planning, observation and intentionality while hidden in plain sight. You're visible but mundane.
- If a criminal action is performed while under Scrutiny, the player is immediately exposed. Feedback is instant and the game-state changes without delay. Real life works like this.
- Tension is high, because if the player messes up while being watched, they'll be Exposed immediately. Real life works like this.

AC2:
- Does not have a specific state dedicated to "being watched"
- Upon first detection, a meter begins to rise rather than being instantly Exposed. Probably done to cut the player some slack.
- Tension is low. A single mess-up lets you fix it with a nearby crowd or hide spot to hop into. There's a generous amount of time to repair your error. You almost never feel the consequences of this error, and whenever you DO feel them, it feels frustrating and irritating. When there's nothing nearby to suspiciously dive into or a crowd of people to stand inside, the delayed Failure State just means it sadistically makes you watch your impending Detection build up. Without much to do about it except run in the completely opposite direction, it would be far less time-consuming to just kill everyone... [wink wink nudge nudge]

Playing AC1 and AC2 side by side, AC1's Detection Model works better for the fantasy of being a covert operative. You know you're being watched, but you're not doing anything suspicious. As long as you continue to do nothing suspicious, you're boring and you're no different from anyone else. You can take your time in that area, and move through the crowd making sure not to bump into anyone. (Fun Fact: Gentle Push is practically useless in AC2) In AC2, as soon as someone's eyes fall upon you, you have a limited time to take a limited set of actions. Change in the game-state is delayed and drawn-out, which makes change in your gameplay delayed and drawn out. Note also that the meters for these guards don't drop at all until way after they've already given up. They don't drop more and more as they check different crowd groups, falling further back to Empty as they check each one. They just stay where they are, and only vanish outright once you're done with them instead of draining back down in a more pleasing way.

@Restricted Area, Guy Told To Move;
AC1 works like this. Rooftops are restricted areas. If you don't leave, the archer will shoot you. There's no reason they can't blend a hybrid of both models.

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You're wrong, and I understand why you're confused! You're not considering that the "being watched but not suspicious" state in AC1 is part of the presentation of the system. You can be watched in AC2 by guards who are not suspicious of you, but the game doesn't explicitly call out that they are watching you: you have to actually notice with your eyes that they are standing there and that they can see you!

When guards in AC1 are watching you but ARE suspicious of you (symbolized by a red eye rather than a yellow one), a timer is slowly filling up, just like in the other games. Performing high profile actions just fills it up faster. This is exactly how the detection meter works in all post AC1 AC, it's just visualized more clearly. In AC1, detection fill is negated by blending in the prayer pose, which is the mechanical equivalent to blending in a crowd in AC2.

To highlight this even more clearly: look at this screenshot of Unity: https://i.imgur.com/XQQOlCV.jpg

More specifically, look at the top right-hand side of the minimap. An eye symbol, which when neutrally-colored symbolizes a guard watching the player. It changes to yellow when you are being detected, then red when you are approaching open conflict. The exact same presentation system as AC1, which you called out Unity specifically for not having! (perhaps you play with the HUD off?)

If we're translating it back into AC1 terms, both the yellow and red states would be represented by a red eye, and the neutral state (which is what the eye is at in the screenshot) would be represented by a yellow eye.

I used to make this mistake too! Don't let presentation fool you into thinking that there is more going on than there actually is. AC games from 2 onward have demonstrably more nuance in their detection. In AC1, no-one would ever push you around and then stop, it was a binary between "not trying to kill you" and "trying to kill you" AC2-on has had a guard behavior where they get mad at you, but only mad enough to tell you to stop and shove you a bit. More impactfully, the switch to two distinct phases of detection allows for a second layer of behaviors: the guard begins actively moving towards the Assassin, rather than just inspecting from his post or while continuing along his patrol route.

---

Restricted areas existed in AC1, they were just not explicitly indicated. Again, think of what a restricted area actually means: the detection process begins on sight if you are not blended. There are such areas in AC1. This is also tied in to how there were actually fanatics in AC1: Alert guards. Remember? When they unsheathed their swords and you had to blend to get past them? That is mechanically identical to the way Fanatics work, and all that restricted areas in AC1 do is turn EVERY guard within into an alert guard.

Fanatics are different in that instead of being normal guards with swords drawn, they are a specific class of enemy designed to never be not-alert. But the thing is: there's no actual mechanical difference between some normal guards behaving like fanatics and fanatics being a specific kind of guard. You could make the exact same game as Unity but use the AC1 method of presenting guards who will always be in detection mode, it would just be less clear.

I can definitely understand an argument that a less clear visualization of detection improves the feeling of tension, but you need to understand the difference between that and there being a major mechanical difference in how detection works in AC1 versus other games. If we're not aware of exactly how these things work, we can't know exactly what we want changed.

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Thanks for pointing all of that out.
It still makes me realize how much more I prefer AC1's System, how much more engaging it is to play with, and how much more faithful it is to the vision it tries to execute. I can definitely understand Ubisoft's undoubtedly good intentions with all the later changes, but it genuinely feels like they take away from the depth and the atmosphere of the gameplay much more than they add to it. That, I can't explain. I couldn't tell you why it feels that way, but it seriously does and it's a feeling that hasn't gone away. I don't know what they need to do to make Stealth in AC post-AC1 feel as good as it did in AC1. It feels disempowering, having to just hope they figure it out.

The best I can compare it to is; When devs were making World of WarCraft, they had a Penalty to your XP Gained from killing monsters, for not Sleeping. Players despised it. But they soon realized that they could have the same mechanic, and make it feel BETTER. Instead of a penalty, they'd just package it as a 10% bonus to your XP if you DID rest.

Even though they appear to be the same mechanic, one feels terrible. The other does not.

AC1's feels good to experience, AC2's and later on does not. (To me.)
It's not that they don't have a great idea, it's that the idea doesn't feel like it's reached its true potential.
I wouldn't really go back to AC1 with the next-gen consoles - I'd prefer they develop a comprehensive stealth system with good readability and transparency but that feels good to play while abiding by those tenets. Dishonored and Mark of the Ninja are the only two examples I can think of that pull that off fantastically. Ubi already aped Mark of the Ninja with the INCREDIBLY FUN AC Chronicles. Not sure what they could do about Dishonored. It's harder to apply lessons learned from First-Person games to Third-Person games.

Regardless of whether I'm right on a technical level (and I'm clearly wrong xD), on a kinesthetic and game-feel level, that's just what I've noticed. And the detection system hasn't changed meaningfully at all since the jump from AC1-2, so it hasn't exactly done a Leap of Faith into my good graces.

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Are you absolutely sure you can't articulate what you're talking about more specifically? What I'm getting from what you're saying is that it's partially the difference in presentation, but mostly the fact that AC1's rendition left a strong impression on you and none of the sequels reinvented that impression.

There is a limit to how differently you can portray the action of a human being perceiving you in a 3D space. Our eyes have cones of vision, our minds take units of time to assess individuals and inform our reaction to them, noise draws our attention even when we aren't looking where it's coming from. The novelty of any system attempting to simulate that will inevitably wear off, and the most significant aspects of how such a system feels will always be related to the tuning of numbers, hearing distances, and vision cones, not the basic mechanical function of it. There's not really anything integral to fix about it as an isolated system, which means it's never going to be newly exciting again. All you can really change is the context it is situated in.

I mean, you yourself have brought up mostly things ancillary to the function of detection. Combat, restricted areas, aggressive enemy types. Perhaps you're having trouble expressing what you liked/disliked because you are simply not correctly identifying where your feelings came from in the first place?

And to go back to what I said earlier: I think you might be a little too attached for your own good if you feel you have to depend on a 9-games-long yearly series to show you something new. There are tons of cool stealth games and games with stealth elements coming out all the time. There are tons of games that don't have anything to do with stealth that could show you some crazy new mechanic that you fall in love with.

The thing with sequels is that once you play the game that really and truly grabs you, you'll probably never like another one of them quite as much. Nostalgia is powerful, because our sense of familiarity is powerful. If you don't feel interested in sticking with something after the familiarity has become apparent, then you're not really helping things if you keep getting your hopes up for it to all come rushing back. Your brain can't be fooled as easily as you might want it to be.

AC is extremely familiar to me. I know its flaws and its limitations. I don't think I'll ever be as excited about it as I was when I first played AC2, and I don't think there's any point hoping it'll recapture that feeling. That's not fair to ask of any sequel, really. I still like seeing cool stuff done with it. I've settled into a spot where I'm fine with hanging out with it every once in a while, and I don't expect more from it than what is realistic for me to expect.

---

Here are my thoughts on how detection could change, perhaps in ways closer to what you're wanting.

AC1 had zero directional indicators in its detection UI, not even to indicate if the guard it was referring to was even looking your way. The designers proved how fantastic of an idea that was by giving you an Idiot Button that you could hold to become invisible whenever you heard the most obnoxious beeping sound in all of video games. When you resort to Pavlovian conditioning to get people to ALMOST play your game correctly, maybe you have gone too far on the whole "minimalism" front. Perhaps if you need to create the Most Obnoxious Beeping Sound In All Of Videogames, you've kind of missed the point of "minimalism". There is a compromise between that and AC2's straightforward look into the mechanical guts of the whole matter: Splinter Cell.

Splinter Cell represents detection through arrows that point in 2D space towards the detector. This is immediately easy to understand, and keeps the focus on important information rather than detailed information. Important information for a game in which stealth relies mainly on blocked line of sight is: threat over there, place something between over there and you. (getting into a crowd counts as doing this in AC's vocabulary) If you look in the direction indicated, you must rely on basic observation to detect the threat for yourself. perhaps it is the person walking towards you with his hand on his weapon. it's not absolutely necessary that you find that out immediately, acting is more important.

Splinter Cell also frames detection as capital D detection: if the arrow does not fill up, the guard literally did not notice that you were there. AC represents this as happening within an instant, as is generally the case for a human being. However, slowing that down and making it the only part of detection that is explicitly represented by a filling bar allows a sense of unpredictability to creep into the post-seen stage: the guard is yelling, walking after me now, what is he going to do? Of course it won't actually be unpredictable. It just won't be timed out for you.

Perhaps the invisible timer could be counting down to different actions: attempting to subdue you Hitman Absolution style, attacking, or running for help/to ring an alarm bell (shout out to those guards in AC4/Unity who do that!). It's really not that hard to suss out what The Thing is: we want the illusion of these being people whose reactions we can't precisely predict once they have seen us. Which will always need to be just an illusion for it to function as a game. This is why all the immediately appreciable changes to detection have been along these lines: it's basically all that's left to do after the basic system is not broken.

The illusion has always been exceedingly transparent to me, which is possibly why I don't care about it that much. I do, however, care about how the detection process is themed: Hitman Absolution does a great job of filling up its splinter cell arrows in a tension-inducing manner, with accompanying static sound-effects that grow louder as detection approaches, then culminate in the sound of a radio tuning to a station. What I'm saying is that Unity's low thumping detection sound is great: just get rid of the "pop-up" sound that signals the start of it and make it grow in intensity in accordance with the severity of the detection. (Even with the pop-up sound it is miles more thematically harmonious than AC1's beeping)

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About the first part;
I think what I'm mostly experiencing is fatigue from a series I adore but that hasn't challenged me significantly in its stealth in a satisfying way since AC2. Unity was challenging, but it definitely didn't feel challenging in a pleasurable way.

About your suggestion that I shouldn't be too attached; I'm attached to AC as it's close to my heart, but as I always try to explain, I play a wide variety of Stealth games with many different stealth systems. I have played Thief, Dishonored, Deus Ex, Splinter Cell, Batman, Shadow of Mordor, Mark of the Ninja, The Last of Us, and everything in between. I'm a Stealth fan at heart, and I constantly seek to consume experiences that tickle that feeling. I'm also an avid Indie game player. I'm not so hopelessly immured within Assassin's Creed that I can't play any other stealth game.

Assassin's Creed just happens to be my favorite game series of all time - so naturally I give it more attention, good and bad.

Trying to think of it more closely, I think that I tend to prefer AC1's system for a few reasons.

First, let me say that I'm infinitely grateful to you for prodding me into Thought and Action. If you hadn't asked whether I really can't express my emotions, I probably would have given up, but your rhetoric is intensely valuable to me. The best parts of talking to you is that even when you approach my statements more aggressively, it never feels like an attack and pretty much always like a way to uncork my flow, so I can explain things better. I love it. It's something I've only really experienced with a few other people, and it's awesome.

Now, about these reasons for why I prefer AC1;
1) The atmosphere of the game was much darker, colder and bleaker. Not singular areas, but the entire game gave me reasons to keep my head down and stay quiet.
2) I prefer AC1's system of the meter filling up much slower but detection feeling instant as soon as you err, rather than AC2's system of detection feeling slow, sluggish and disconnected from the player. I prefer it because real life feels closer to the way AC1 does this. If I'm in a store and someone's looking at me, they won't call the cops no matter what I'm doing as long as they don't explicitly see me doing something absurd. When I was much younger, I'd shoplift on occasion, so I suppose the sensation rings more true for me in AC1. It's a more direct feeling.
3) I have grown tired of and feel fatigued with, the way detection is handled in games like AC2-Unity, and Shadow of Mordor. SoM at least allows a meaningful use of the system by letting you Assassinate an enemy who has just detected you but hasn't yelled out yet. Usually these Uruks/Orcs are in places where other enemies won't see them. At least, that's what I remember from SoM so it must mean it's been at least prevalent enough to lodge into my memory. AC hasn't managed to nail this to such satisfaction just yet. I hope this is something they add in later, for flavor. As I grow older, I become more appreciative of more ambiguous and less cut and dry systems like old Thief games. The game still gives you all the information you need, but it becomes more about managing Risk than anything else. It feels more in line with the fantasy of being Stealthy.

I don't dislike Assassin's Creed games, I don't dislike Assassin's Creed as a whole. If I did, I'd give up on it, surrender my will to enjoy it entirely. It's that I love Assassin's Creed as much as I do that I hope for it to become better than itself. Smile

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My heart agrees with your suggestions for detection. Perhaps it's not detection itself that I'm entirely displeased with, it's the gameplay that surrounds it. What's amazing is that your other suggestions of how Stealth should link into both Combat and Navigation would likely be a good solution to this. If that was introduced, the Detection system could stay as it is with minor changes - because the gameplay that hangs off of it would actually reinforce what it tries to do.

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I never thought of the AC1 detection system as a meter filling up. It was more of a guard getting suspicious, drawing out his sword (if the sword wasn't already unsheathed). Then it was a matter of getting too close while not blending or performing unacceptable actions. Since the other games had SSI arrows that showed the level of suspicion, it felt like after you escape a guard's detection he forgets about you. Unlike AC1 where it felt like the guard was waiting for you to cross a line before taking action.

There are some restricted areas in AC1, more specifically guards who treat the place like it's restricted. Like around Abul's palace during his assassination. I think some areas in Kingdom were restricted, but was always too busy running through to make the distinction.

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I'm not saying that you don't play other games, just that you should not feel you need to rely on any one game!

I'd have to time it out, but I don't remember there being an appreciable difference in the speed with which detection worked in AC1. If anything I'd say it was faster, not slower, but high profile actions fill it up pretty quick in all the games, especially Unity.

But your point about how the obfuscation enhances it is noted: that's why I think the "fast initial detection with clear indicators, then ambiguous unmarked reaction period" approach might be best.

AC1 definitely had better level design than the whole of the Ezio trilogy, but I feel like AC3, 4, and Unity have far surpassed it. They moved away from AC2's more guided mission approach, reserving that entirely for set-piecey things, and even incorporating some level designey stuff in a lot of the set-pieces

The main lesson they can take from AC1 is regarding friction: a sensation that the guards are more actively a threat, less of a passive pattern, more human. This is another illusion that AC1 implied mostly through not giving you as much information, however in this case I think it has a stronger point. (after all, it does not by its nature necessitate horrific shrieking beeping noises) No dots on the mini-map would meld nicely with the current X-Ray form of Eagle Vision, especially since it appears you can only use it when standing still, just like old times.

There is one case in which there is actually WAY too much friction: ranged guards. I think I would prefer if they either made all guards have a slightly increased range of sight so they could all fulfill the same function as ranged guards in a less obnoxious way, or if they made ranged guards even more obnoxious, powerful, and far-seeing, but cut down MASSIVELY on how many there are. In this way they're a hyper-dangerous frictive presence contained within a single being, which always makes them more satisfying to take out, and justifies more your prodigious abilities to do so.

But hey, even as they are we've come a long way from when archers merely rotated 90 degree turns on the spot, ignoring anything that happened on the streets they were allegedly protecting, dealing a few petty squares of damage with a single arrow. Those guys were as frictionless as a bar of soap coated in oil.

re: being able to assassinate when they haven't called for help: that's already something you can do. If a guard runs for an alarm bell, they're vulnerable to assassination til they're done ringing it. This was introduced in AC4, and continued into Unity. As for when they're actually just squaring off against you, AC2 and other among the Ezio games gave you around 7 seconds to freely murder, before they'd be fully in combat stance. It was fun, but also kind of lame, and it devalues one of the main benefits of ranged weapons: taking out folks who are aware you're there. I'm a fan of the game requiring some rough and tumble if you botch a backstab.

@Aurll: The SSI in future games was meant to represent them deciding what to do about you if you crossed a line too. The dialogue they say during that reinforces it. In all of the games they unsheathed their weapons while reaching red detection. It is true that you need to pay more attention to notice that a bar is filling up in AC1, but you internalize the exact same sort of strange behavior. And the guards most definitely do forget you, it's just harder keep track of them and find out due to a lack of mini-map and really aggressive NPC spawning/despawning, the latter of which is also super obvious and distracting to me.

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Jermaine Tito wrote:
The main lesson they can take from AC1 is regarding friction: a sensation that the guards are more actively a threat, less of a passive pattern, more human. This is another illusion that AC1 implied mostly through not giving you as much information, however in this case I think it has a stronger point. (after all, it does not by its nature necessitate horrific shrieking beeping noises) No dots on the mini-map would meld nicely with the current X-Ray form of Eagle Vision, especially since it appears you can only use it when standing still, just like old times.

There is one case in which there is actually WAY too much friction: ranged guards. I think I would prefer if they either made all guards have a slightly increased range of sight so they could all fulfill the same function as ranged guards in a less obnoxious way, or if they made ranged guards even more obnoxious, powerful, and far-seeing, but cut down MASSIVELY on how many there are. In this way they're a hyper-dangerous frictive presence contained within a single being, which always makes them more satisfying to take out, and justifies more your prodigious abilities to do so.

This is good. These two paragraphs, they're fantastic. AC1 definitely has the most tangible atmosphere, and the aura of ever-present hostility/threat is a big part of it. It's probably what I've been looking for, and using friction as a term to describe it works well. It's also why I'm liking Syndicate's "no dots" minimap and Eagle Vision's implied immobility. Having ranged guards be hyper-dangerous would be fantastic, and probably the route I'd like to see them take. It would allow you to really feel AC's freedom when you overcome normal guards, by contrasting the feeling with how much more oppressive Ranged guards are. Whenever there's a Ranged guard, the decreased freedom he represents in that moment or area almost becomes like a mini-boss or a puzzle, using the environment to bypass or reach him. How they could do that without making that single guard too frustrating to plan around, I'm not sure. It is an open world game, after all, so designing gameplay Moments in a game like that is tougher than designing for a linear world. Unless they made Eagle Vision only show his vision cone and no one else's or something.

Re: Silencing Stabs, the way Dishonored and Shadow of Mordor present this is way cooler and feels better in your hands than it does in AC. Namely, the animations for such a kill are slightly different than normal assassinations. Talion will cover the Uruk's mouth with his hand, bringing him down to the ground and stabbing him in the chest with his dagger. Corvo will slit the Watchman's throat with his Sword, cutting off his panicked cry for help. It's a rush of adrenaline that you only really get from having came in close and personal and silencing the target before he screams. Feels Rogue as hell, and you did just "save" yourself. I don't see why making it feel a bit more pleasing would take much away from Ranged weapons for improvisation. It just depends entirely on the distance you're at from the opponent. If you're too far for such a melee kill, you'll still have to use a Dart or Knife. As long as they don't do a Metal Gear-style Slow-Mo effect, or they don't Slow Time SoM-style when you Aim with a Ranged Weapon, I'd be happy with that. They wouldn't need to, besides. AC Ranged weapons can be Tapped on reaction for a Quickshot or Quickthrow. And this is another really cool opportunity. What I mean is, some Guards in AC don't die from a single Quickshot. They're the meatier ones, or ones with more armor. So at that point the tension is on the player to learn which archetypes can be one-shotted with Ranged Weapons, and which ones can only be silenced with a "Last-Chance" stab. This could feel really rewarding.

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I will refrain from dissenting more about the atmosphere, suffice it to say I think parts of it are good.

Oh, I didn't get the impression that was what you were talking about when you mentioned silencing enemies. I've played dishonored, so I know what you mean now you've referenced that. I'm not so sure that fits AC: for one thing, that kind of already exists: high and low profile. High profile attacks have benefits like dual takedowns and air assassinates, low profile ones have less utility but are more discreet. Many low profile assassination animations already show the Assassin covering the target's mouth.
I'm not sure that adding an additional third level would work, especially since it doesn't fit in very cleanly: High profile is visually obvious, low profile is visually discreet, this new one would be visually obvious but only aurally discreet. That seems anathema to social stealth: should we not cover noise with crowds or isolating our targets, rather than conspicuously muffling them with our hands?

This might also tie into the fact that I don't think Assassin's Creed is/wants to be/should be a stealth game.

I complained about the Marie assassination in Unity because you can kill her silently in a blend group, but afterwards guards magically know where you are and follow you around until you get out of your blend group. I hated that! But, at the same time, that scenario is what I want to happen naturally as a convergence of systems: the target is down, their absence/demise is noticed quickly, the guards are closing in. I don't want to remove them from play like a chess piece and see all the other pieces continue to move in their patterns, I want the danger to increase.

Escaping unnoticed should be possible, but it should be chaotic and unpredictable: like Haytham's escape from the theater in AC3. It was all scripted, yes, but it is an example of a situation that could have easily gone bad if he had not kept his cool and left as soon as possible.

Basically I'm saying that most common stealth tropes are often more suited to that chess game situation, where you're trying to remove pieces from the board in the correct order for them to not react to you. I think Assassinations are about doing things in situations where the world is going to react to your actions no matter what, and it's all about how you handle that reaction.

I think a lot of games that think they are stealth games suffer for that assumption, by adding things that reinforce the players' assumption that all things not related to stealth are things they shouldn't be using. And that's how you get folks resetting to checkpoint instantly.

Sorry, not sure if that was clear. I kind of got off track but I also kind of didn't.

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http://killscreendaily.com/articles/dark-ways-stealth-games-work-your-mi...

This article about Thief and similar stealth games highlights something I was trying to say: traditional stealth is fully about putting you in that mindset where you feel horrible for ever resorting to chaos. You always want to reset until you get it right, because the world is built to make you feel more powerful when you are in stealth, and succeeding at aggression reveals how hollow that is.

And I think the surface level stuff that AC1 does is again more about furthering the stealth fantasy than there being a meaningful tension between brazenness and discretion. One of the reasons I liked AC2 was that because it didn't place such overwhelming importance on being unseen, because fight scenes had action movie music rather than oppressive booming, there was a greater sense of each pillar of gameplay being a valid part of your abilities. It is again mostly surface-level, but it's a surface that I think jives better with what the core wants to be.

These are action games that value a build-up and release of pressure, not stealth games. And the action is about movement: about getting to a place and getting away from the challengers released when you get there. Stealth is used in the initial approach, and stealth is the state that you recede into at the end, but the core of the game is really the chaos, the chase. Combat and stealth are tools existing in support of that, they shouldn't be used to circumvent it.

Which is to say, I think it's as bad if missions can be done silently with no friction resulting from the kill/completed objective as it is if missions can be done guns blazing, no-one left alive.

The friction doesn't always have to mean "open combat", but there has to always be an analogue for "the chase", even if it is more low-key. In the case of traditional public assassinations, I think you can rely on open combat, but when you're stealing something from a house, perhaps the concept of being quietly "tailed" by enemies and having to shake them would fit better.

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